Plain Talk, Nov. 1 2017
With increasing frequency, the Caribbean has been experiencing heavy rainfall, devastating floods, monster hurricanes, very hot days and nights as well as prolonged periods of droughts. So far this year, the region has witnessed two category 5 hurricanes that wreaked havoc in Dominica, Tortola, St Croix, BVI, Turks and Caicos, St Martin, and Cuba.In responding to this absolutely life changing, indeed existential threat, Professor Anthony Chen, speaking at a climate change forum hosted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, suggested that Jamaica should seek economic restitution from global polluters at the international Court of Justice (ICJ). It is a cause all Caribbean nations should embrace.
As Dr Chen noted that the dangers and threat of global warming has been well established since the 1990s, but the countries responsible have not taken any significant steps to reduce greenhouse gasses. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords and the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a global warming/climate change denier.
No serious planner in the region can fail to factor the deadly issue in yearly if not daily or monthly brain storms. Towards the end of 2013, Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent experienced devastating storms. The Christmas Eve storm took 13 lives and caused more than $300 million in damage, about 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real. They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past; from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none; from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding; and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.
Sceptics, like Frank Da Silva, ULP chief propagandist, continues to deny that these phenomena are in any way related to climate change. But, increasingly, scientific evidence points to human-induced effects of climate change.
Over the last two decades, the Caribbean has been the victim of climate change even though it contributes the least to the problem. Trinidad and Tobago is the region's biggest polluter at a paltry 0.17 per cent of the world's total CO2 emissions. Each of the other 13 independent Caricom countries emits 0.01 per cent or less. The United States, Japan, China, India and the European Union (EU) countries, are the major polluters.
A 2014 study by the Inter-American Development Bank fears that the tourism industry in the Caribbean — the mainstay of many of the islands — could lose upwards to US$900 million a year by 2050. It also says that flat islands like The Bahamas are particularly vulnerable, and it estimates that, by 2053, climate change will cumulatively have cost the Caribbean up to US$2 billion. Also, the annual income from fishing may be affected by as much as US$140 million from 2015.
The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize has also posted an authoritative report which shows that the Caribbean is particularly at risk for dramatic rises in temperature with damaging effects on sensitive ecosystems that cannot tolerate even small changes in climate if they occur at a rapid pace. Studies indicate that if nothing is done to halt the current trend of global warming, Jamaica will be among the first places on Earth (2023) to see a significant increase in temperature from the historical average. It will be followed by Haiti (2025), Dominican Republic (2026), Bahamas and Guyana (2029), and Belize (2034). In SVG the signs are all around us. While these countries are specifically mentioned, all Caribbean countries will be similarly affected to some degree with consequences for agriculture, water, tourism and production.
The problem posed by global warming and climate change are real, unprecedented and urgent. Regional governments are forced to contend with shrinking, massive debt burdens, high deficits and high unemployment caused by structural deficiencies in their economies.
Compounding this situation is a report by the Inter-American Development Bank which says the "region needs to dramatically increase its investment in climate change adaptation and mitigation in the coming decades".Caribbean leaders are between a rock and a hard place. Mounting problems and very little resources to effectively tackle them. There are few willing donors will to assist the region to fund adaptation and developmental projects.
Therefore, Dr Chen’s idea of seeking economic restitution through legal action against the major polluters holds merit. And it has been echoed before. Chris Huhne, a former British environment minister noted in 2013 "a group of small island states threatened by rising sea levels, led by Palau, came close to asking the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion, and the main reason they did not press ahead then was that the scientific case is strengthening by the month".The Caribbean can no longer merely endure the effects of global warming whose evidence is plain to see and whose major offenders have been identified by no less an organisation than the United Nations. The scientific documentation is available and irrefutably.
The Caribbean has had to endure conquest, genocide, slavery and colonialism. The legacy of these crimes against humanity are still with us. There was a time when the Caribbean was regarded in European capitols as the most cherished piece of real estate in the world. Then as slavery became a break on capitalist development these islands were abandoned.
On top of the colonial mess left by Europeans, our region is now forced to face an urgent existential threat, devastation due to climate change. Science is showing that we are close to if not pass the point of no return. It may be very late, but we need skilled teams of technocrats and a committed political leadership to press the case for our very survival. There will be no future unless climate change due to global warming is given utmost priority.